The Yankees have played things safe for the final week of the regular season, and envisioned getting a stretch of tune-ups for their potential postseason starters in the season finale against Texas. Things went awry however, as James Paxton, Luis Severino, and Masahiro Tanaka combined to give the team just seven innings of work.
Given that the Yankees have yet to announce their Game One starter for the ALDS against the Twins yet, there are a lot of questions about what the team got out of that turn through the rotation. Pitching for most of the season has been a major area of concern for the roster, but a recent upswing in performance gave some confidence that the Yankees were riding some hot arms before tripping up at the finish line.
It’s important to keep in mind that the Yankees were never looking for any of these starters to go deep into their final starts, just get a few innings of work as a precursor to the playoffs. Even though they didn’t hit that mark, there isn’t much evidence to suggest that falling out of line before the season restarts is in any way a readable omen of the postseason to come.
Several marquee pitchers have been given the short end of starts in their final go before October, and their results have varied from marginally effective to brilliant. Clayton Kershaw, a veteran of five Game One NLDS starts over his career, was held to under four innings pitched twice in his final regular season start before the playoffs. In both of his subsequent postseason starts Kershaw went out and dealt into the seventh inning, taking a narrow loss in 2015 and a victory in 2017.
Chris Sale and Corey Kluber have pitched limited innings in their final starts before the postseason each of the last two seasons, and had to fight to give their team five innings. Sale in particular was sharp but unable to efficiently put away batters, while Kluber couldn’t fool the Astros lineup that he faced in 2018.
Some pitchers have been brilliant given the situation, however. In 2013 Adam Wainwright threw just 72 pitches in his final regular season start, while the Cardinals cruised to the top record in the National League. St. Louis lined up Wainwright to open the NLDS and he tossed seven innings of one-run ball against the Pirates. CC Sabathia in his debut postseason with the Yankees was following up a dreadful regular season finale where he went only 2.2 innings and gave up five earned runs. Sabathia turned around and dominated the Twins for 6.2 innings to begin the World Series run.
Tune-ups before the playoffs ultimately don’t tend to give us much of an indicator for what that pitcher is about to do in the postseason, good or bad. Short starts or quickly-abandoned ones affect baseball’s elite indiscriminately, and postseason clunkers can befall any ace. The body of work that the Yankees starters have this season is inconsistent, but it gives us enough to rely on more than whoever messed up the least lately.